NAPPANEE – Sometimes the dominoes just fall in your favor. Scoring just one touchdown in its last nine quarters of football, NorthWood made up for the drought with a 42-28 Northern Lakes Conference football thriller win against visiting Warsaw.
Warsaw trailed 28-21 after Dominic Miranda ran the ball in from nine yards and NorthWood converted its two-point attempt late in the third quarter, the merry-go-round began as the final 12 minutes were posted on the clock.
The Tigers would respond, driving down the field and moving inside the Panther five after Ethyn Bradley took a screen pass 20 yards to the three. Quarterback Jake Mangas found his brother, Kyle, for a two-yard pass to tie the game at 28.
NorthWood would only need 1:42 to answer. A halfback pass by Miranda for 30 yards brought the Panthers inside Warsaw territory, and Trey Bilinski capped the drive with a one-yard plunge. It looked as though Warsaw was poised to return the favor and tie the game, but a huge tackle by Miranda on a scrambling Jake Mangas on fourth and four foiled the Tigers at NorthWood’s 40.
NorthWood looked to have made a crucial mistake, going for it on fourth and two on its next possession. Instead of getting a first down and melting more clock, Bilinski pitched the ball to no one on the play, with Warsaw recovering with 3:07 to go. But just as quickly as Warsaw got the ball back, they gave it away.
Scrambling from a collapsing pocket, Mangas couldn’t find an open receiver and passed into coverage, which Drew Minnich easily grabbed for the interception. A minute later, Tanner Cleveland shut the door with a 40-yard touchdown run to seal the wild affair.
“This was just a great high school football game,” said NorthWood head coach Nate Andrews. “We had been on a little bit of a dry spell on offense lately, and it took us a little while to get going tonight. We just started making plays and that rhythm started for us. Very nice to see.”
Added Warsaw head coach Phil Jensen of the fourth down play made by Miranda, “Jake’s just not built to scramble. He tried to get rid of the ball but tried to pull it back. Our kids fought. It was a great high school football game on a beautiful night. Both teams fought hard and played hard. They just came out and made more plays than we did.”
Warsaw had taken a 14-13 lead into the lockerroom when Mangas found Jeremy David for a 15-yard touchdown strike with just 33 seconds left in the half. The Tigers opened the game with a 50-yard touchdown run by Jakub Wood on the game’s first possession.
An 80-yard drive by Warsaw in the third quarter yielded Bradley a one-yard score.
Bilinski would finish the night with four touchdowns for the Panthers, three through the air, finding Travis Bear for 15 and 21 yards, and Tanner Cleveland for nine yards. Miranda added a 10-yard rush for a score as the third quarter wound down.
Bilinski was 22-31 for 242 yards with no interceptions but was sacked four times and did have the fumble lost in the fourth quarter. Cleveland ran for 114 yards on just 14 carries and Miranda added 62 yards on the ground. Bear was fantastic on the outside, catching 13 balls for 199 yards.
Warsaw, which had been pass happy all season and led the NLC in team passing through week seven, had Mangas fire for 222 yards through the air on 20-42 attempts. Warsaw, which not coincidentally was one of the worst rushing teams in the NLC, did stack up 143 yards on the ground, 80 from Bradley and 67 from Wood.
“We probably had the most offense we have had all year, we just didn’t score enough points and gave up too much,” Jensen said. “We’ll have to come back and try it again next week against Concord.”
NorthWood (5-3, 3-3 NLC) will look to spoil Plymouth’s undefeated season next Friday at the Rock Pile. The Rockies rolled over Goshen, 43-13, to move to 8-0 this season and won the NLC outright with the victory.
Warsaw (4-4, 3-3 NLC) will look to jump on a reeling Concord squad at home that was crushed by Northridge, 35-0.